Gates Foundation grant for developing data journalism in Africa

18 August 2015

The International Center for Journalists programme is a three-year initiative to promote data journalism and empirical research for media in Africa. The project will be managed by Code For Africa, Africa’s largest civic technology initiative, whose highly successful CitizenLabs project has helped encourage digital experimentation and aid digital transformation in traditional media and social justice organisations. With the recognition and contribution from the Gates Foundation, this innovative trend in journalism is set to put Africa at the forefront of cutting edge electronic journalism.

Code For Africa strategist, Justin Arenstein, says the uptrend of information- and research-based journalism is making journalism relevant to ordinary people again, adding that “media organisations have to discover what their audiences really care about (and) develop journalism that gives the audience actionable information.”

The project will also advance the use of pioneering sensor journalism, data sourced from environmental sensors – for example, measuring air, water and noise pollution levels in major African cities. “These sensors generate real-time readings, which data journalists analyse for trends and anomalies, (triggering) reportage.(and the) stories generated (will assist in) identifying polluters and helping citizens understand which parts of their cities are healthier and safer to live in,” Arenstein explains.

Thanks to the Gates Foundation grant, the project has recruited some of Africa’s most innovative digital news content creators as ICFJ Knight Fellows, including former South African Mail & Guardian editor, Chris Roper, and data journalism pioneer, Raymond Joseph, who will head the cadet journalism school in Cape Town.

The cadet course will include students spending two to three weeks in a practical learning environment working with data ‘wranglers’ in order to learn how to use data as a visualisation tool and a way to make complicated data-based stories more comprehensible and more interesting.

After training, students can be integrated into media houses to further use their background in data gathering and analysis in the traditional journalism environment. Code For Africa will be on hand to guide and mentor them during this process. “After six months we hope the journalists will have the skills to work in newsrooms or start successful freelance careers,” Joseph said.

The project is also set to educate these traditional media houses and its senior management on how data journalism can be bring an added value to their roles as communicators.

Arenstein said the programme will also be supported by in-country teams of civic technologists, who help run the Code For South Africa and Code For Kenya CitizenLabs, with all resources, including software and data, plus training resources, will be made available for free re-use elsewhere on the continent.

Code For Africa currently has over 90 data journalism projects, ranging from popular mobile-based citizen reporting apps and data investigations, to water sensors that help rural villagers avoid cholera. Its African News Innovation Challenge and Hacks/Hackers Africa events have built up a continental network of over 30,000 contributors, and bring together journalists and technologists to collaborate on various media projects.

Code For Africa’s engagement strategist, Stephen Abbott Pugh, has worked on some of the biggest data-driven stories over the last five years, including the WikiLeaks cables, as well as data-driven citizen engagement programmes for the British Parliament. Pugh intends to use his insights on this new ground-breaking avenue of journalism to reach as many people as possible and give audiences the tools to help shape the news and public discourse.

“The reality is that the majority of people across Africa are still offline,” he says, “but many have access to mobile phones. (Code For Africa) will be looking at how to use SMS and radio, in combination with open data and other civic technologies, to transmit personalised and actionable information to people when they need it most.we (want to) give people the tools to make their own voices heard.”

Source: The Media Online